A German view on the debt talks … and American politics these days.

I am notquite sure how many people here in Germany followed the ongoing debtnegotiations in Washington these days; probably not many. German news cover it and not just in passing, but whereas it is considered news of global importance, it does not go into the detail and depth that I need to satisfy my need for American politics nerd knowledge.

Now, being an English and a history teacher might be one reason for me being more interested in this whole issue than the average German (most of the people I know do know the basic outlines being that there is hassle about the national debt, the fact that that debt is really high by now and that once more Democrats and Republicans differ on yet another issue, but that´s it), also because I see history and historic traces in many things. Such as in this.
Which means when I watch this, I don´t just watch it from a German viewpoint, I also watch it from that of a historian and probably both these viewpoints are what influence my outlook on things.

So first of: like most of my countrymen, and women, I am far more supportive on the Democrat viewpoint than I am of the Republican one. But these negotiations and the global importance of the outcome made me reconsider and rethink a few thoughts on America.  None of these are aimed at insulting any Americans anywhere out there. They are a neutral-as-possible look through the German lense at the things that are going on across the pond and some ideas from my side to explain why I think things there play out so differently from what I think they should be like.

1)  Obama – too European for some Americans?

This is a point I have been discussing with a few American friends, Democrats as well as Republicans and some have found a point in it. Because what I notice time and again about Obama and his politics is that us Germans in general (and I might be speaking for other European countries to some extent, even though I do no have too much of a detail knowledge on that) get along better with Democratic ideas than with Republican ones. One might wonder why. One reason is that I think that Obama´s ideas, the way he makes politics, the way he thinks when it comes to the idea of government, the idea of healthcare and social securities etc., is to some extent European. Now, I have had long discussions with a friend of mine who is actually Republican (but no hardliner) who has made a point of the problems that big government can mean, discussions in which I usually hold the standpoint of disliking a certain dog-eat-dog mentality behind the key concept of the American Dream which makes it look to me as if many Americans favour the idea of fending for themselves in every aspect of their lives over the idea of the state providing for them. When I got interested in
American politics I was surprised to see the state that social security and health care was in at the point, coming from a country where health insuranceis something … well, I couldn´t name a single person I know that has none. We´re covered. The system is sure far from perfect being divided into state and private health care, but there is healthcare and there is no necessity to make it an issue of the likes it had to be made an issue when Obama got the Health Care Bill passed. Because we have it.Because it´s another mentality. Thementality of the state providing for you to some extent. Not because it´s biggovernment and it´s a bad thing but because that´s what we´re used to. America is not.

And that´s why, I figure, that there are voices that immediately start to fling around words like “communism”, “socialism” or even “facism” at ideas such as Obama´s Health Care Bill which from my
point of view, is completely ridiculous and should be countered with throwin these people a (hopefully very heavy) dictionary so they can look up those terms and see what they really mean. So long story short, there is a pattern of these things: issues like Obama´s view on Health Care seem completely reasonable to me but don´t seem it to some Americans it seems because they
associate it with things that we would not associate it with, because it´s part of our political mentality. And us and communism…been a long, rather divided story (pun intended), and we got it settled. Don´t think too much of it at all.

2)  The idea of compromise

Again, another thing that looks bizarre from a German viewpoint. We all know politics can be distressing, we all know it downright sucks at times and we all get our rants. But the thing is that this is democracy. There are things you like, there are things you don´t like but we believe as defenders of this system that this is how things need to be to have the people represented. Now the question of course is whether the people we vote always do that but that´s a matter for a different discussion. What is a matter for this is that I am often bewildered on the hard fronts when it comes to American politics. As a German, I am often having a hard time deciding who to vote for. The differences between the parties do sometimes not seem that big and whereas there are some parties that
I´d cross of the plate of my consideration right away, that leaves others I have to decide from. But thinking about that I come to the conclusion that this can also be a good thing. If I were American, I´d always know who to vote for, it would clearly be Democrat, but then again, as a German, that kind of uncertainty at least to me is no sign of political frustration – it´s a sign that the parties seem to be closer together for reasons of the fact that they just need to compromise. Because whereas America is basically a two party system with one party always gaining the total majority in the national
elections, German elections are a wee bit more complicated. With there being two major parties around the 30-40 per cent line and three others that are smaller, the help of these smaller or the opposing larger party is always required to form a government. After each election, there are negotiations to come up with a government agreement. Whether it will be a big coalition, a government formed by the two biggest party or one of the classical big party / smaller party solutions… well, we´ve had quite some variations so far. It´s always compromise. It leads to things such as a chancellor being from another party than the vice chancellor. It leads to a mixed parties cabinet. And that´s good.
Because it keeps ideas fresh and varied.
That´s not how things work in America. There it´s two parties and far harder party lines. Which however brings me to point three of my observations.

3)
Republican radicalism

From a German viewpoint, point two was not seen merely as criticism in the American two-party system and the fact that a two party system makes it hard to teach a
country to be well battled in compromise. What is another point is the fact that from my point of view, some of the stuff that come from the Republicans are simply so drastic, that I am sure they would be instantly called off as too radical here in Germany. A few points:

a)      Catering to the rich, the corporate jet owners, big oil,… as has been seen in recent days: this is something that no German party would display that obvious.

b)      Bringing up issues such as Don´t ask don´t tell or the whole gay rights discussion. Okay, I know, we´re not quite there yet with gay marriage over here but from a German view point this is
like: wait what? There is actually something like don´t ask don´t tell? And there are actually candidate hopefuls discussing something like MOMA? W.T.F? Here,this would be a total non issue. Because who somebody loves is their own thing. And well sure, my grandparents do still somethimeshave funny ideas about homosexuality sometimes, but not my generation. Oh btw, we had a gay secretary
of state. And we still do have a gay mayor for our capital but nobody really bothers. So these things being an issue for discussion over there? Weird.

c)       The whole obvious stuff about some Republicans making it their priority to make sure Obama does not get a second term. I think after explaining my second point on compromise, the absurdity
this presents for me goes without saying. Well, yes, we too have politiciansattacking each other but like this? Which brings me to my last point:

4) The media

On my search for news there are things I seek and there are things I avoid. I mostly rely on two blogs (one of which being this one) and the white house homepage. Partly cnn. Some of what I see along the road seems to be a farce at best. Fox News? Sheesh, seriously? It seems funny that anyone is even taking thisseriously.

So to bring this rather long thing to a close: I do think there are mentality differences on this, but I also understand that there are many many people who have very sane minds and who have good ideas and one of those certainly is the president.
This whole debacle about the ongoing discussion is unnecessary and, from my viewpoint, manufactured by the GOP, aiming to shift the focus to what should be a non issue and away from what really matters: strengthening the economy andcreating jobs.

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